Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The Day the Earth Shook
’s 61st Republic Day. The whole nation is celebrating. Newspapers are abound with all sort of stories: how the Indian Republic came into being, how the constitution – the Bible, the Koran and the Gita of the republic – was formed, how the democracy, though sometimes crippling, has thrived in the country, how the nation has moved in last 60 years and what we still need to do to truly achieve the dream the forefathers of the nation once saw and worked for. Once the euphoria subsides, I quietly sit back and recall my memories of this particular day over the years. There is president of the nation saluting the tricolor. The grand parade down the Rajpath is impressively showing the military might of the nation along with the rich and diverse cultural heritage. I can see them clearly even with my weakness to visualize images and it makes me happy. Then comes a blot! It was the same fateful day of year 2001 when the earth shook in Kutch and other parts of India Gujarat with an earthquake of 7.7 magnitudes on Richter scale. 12000 unfortunate people were killed that vary day. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. Those gory pictures made me sad. In fact it was Golu who reminded me of it the previous day when he called. At least a couple of years passed by without any remembrance of it. How could I forget it? But then, our memory sometimes serves us best without serving us at all! Recollecting those horrifying images would have been a sad affair. That Friday morning I was doing my routine Surya Namaskara. I do not exactly remember what others were doing – we were a big bunch then, 6 of us in a two bedroom house on first floor in sector 3, Gandhinagar. I guess some of them were reading. It was our first year in engineering in prestigious Nirma Institute of Technology and the first internal exams were scheduled to start from the coming Monday – we were a studious lot in those days. My only contact with the floor was my palms and the feet when the earth vibrated. Until that moment I did not know what an earthquake was. We were wondering what that vibration was when Dharmesh jumped out of the sofa, the antique relic provided by our landlord, shouting Earthquake! Earthquake! His initial schooling years in came handy to recognize the quake instantly. Poor fellow forgot what an earthquake is called in Gujarati so he tried to remember the correct word for a second or two before he concluded that life was more precious at the moment and started shouting and running. All of us followed him and gathered in the small ground next to the house. The earth was still shaking. I looked at the mango tree in front of our house - without my spectacles on, it looked like a huge fellow dancing to a slow rhythmic tune. People were flocking towards a big ground behind our society. Curious to know what interested them, we rushed to the place – there was a small cleft in the land as if someone wanted to split it in two halves. We would spare next couple of weeks sleeping outside the house, with some dogs for company in the night as the aftershocks kept visiting us. By afternoon the news started flowing about the havoc wrecked by the earthquake in Mount Abu Kutch. Many a cities – Bhuj, Anjar, Raapar etc – were in rubbles. The devastation spared no one. Kutch was virtually dusted to the ground. Has the region regained its splendor? Has it rebuilt itself after 9 years? It surely has. I hear a lot of success stories of NGOs either working with the people or the government for rehabilitation and reconstruction. More than 3.2 lakh houses are built in these years, more than the actual number of houses damaged. Kutch is being developed into a tourism destination and it’s in the thick of industrial activities. Once one of the remotest areas of the country, it now occupies quite a center stage in the development schemes. That is very satisfying. I sincerely hope , the country currently grappling with the same disaster, also turns out to be one such success story.